HC Deb 28 February 1995 vol 255 cc829-31
7. Ms Rachel Squire

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down has to conduct a study on the long-term health effects of its experiments on the people involved.

Mr. Freeman

There has been no evidence over the past 40 years to suggest that service volunteers who have participated in studies at the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down have suffered any harm to their health. Therefore, we have no plans to conduct a study on the long-term health effects on such volunteers.

Ms Squire

Is the Minister aware that a number of ex-service men, including my constituent, Mr. Harry Hogg, were subject to horrific experiments with biological and chemical substances at Porton Down during the second world war and subsequently? Will he agree personally to investigate Mr. Hogg's case as Porton Down is trying to deny that he was ever there? Will he further agree to demonstrate the caring nature of the Ministry of Defence, as alleged by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes), by establishing an independent study into the long-term health effects and by considering means of compensating those affected?

Mr. Freeman

I shall certainly look at the particular case. I am not familiar with it but, if the hon. Lady will write to me, I shall examine it specifically. About 200 service men a year volunteer at Porton Down to take part in experiments to test not only equipment to be used in war but, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Armed Forces said, chemicals and medicines for use in the event of chemical and biological warfare.

Mr. Key

As the alternative motto of the CBDE is "safety first" and every procedure is subjected to ethical assessment, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the hundreds of my constituents who work there, saving thousands of lives through their work?

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and certainly join him in thanking and congratulating his constituents. I also thank the service men and women who volunteer to take part in experiments at Porton Down. They have helped to ensure the safety of our armed forces.

Mr. Fatchett

Does the Minister realise that his response to this question is as disappointing and mean as that of his fellow Minister in relation to Gulf war syndrome? When there are reports that volunteers at Porton Down have suffered from skin and eye cancer, paralysis, disorders of the ears, nose, kidneys and bladder, is the Minister really saying that it is all chance and spontaneous? Do not the Government owe it to those volunteers to ensure that there is a proper independent medical inquiry into what has happened to them? Those people volunteered not for money but to help their country and their fellow service people. Would not the best answer from the Minister be to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) and set up that inquiry now?

Mr. Freeman

The hon. Gentleman is falling below his normal charitable standards. I specifically agreed to look at the case that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) raised. There is no evidence [Interruption.] Perhaps it does not commend itself to Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government do pay attention to the facts presented. There is no evidence that any of those volunteers has suffered long-term damage to their health in the past four decades.